LOVING IT: Tarawera High School students Ocean Klock-Aramoana (left) and Azahriah Mani enjoy their free lunch, especially the banana cake. Photo Troy Baker D9625-03
  • Free lunch for all at Tarawera

AN Eastern Bay secondary school is breaking the mould and providing free lunch to all students under the new free school lunches’ programme.

Tarawera High School is the first secondary school in the Eastern Bay to participate in the $45 million government-led initiative to fund free lunches for students in need.

The programme is aimed at primary and intermediate students but Tarawera has taken the initiative a step further and is offering every student, from year 7 to 13, a free lunch.

Kawerau Putauaki School, Kawerau South School and Murupara Area School are also part of the programme.

Tarawera deputy principal Marissa Peters said it was important for children’s learning that they were well fed.

“The importance of ensuring that every child is well fed nutritionally throughout the day, means that when we have healthy minds, healthy bodies and we’ve got healthy children at school, we see an increase in attendance.”

Tikanga Maori and the hauora of the students is at the centre of the programme for Tarawera, according to Ms Peters.

“It’s one of our strategic goals this year to improve student hauora (student health), so we can do it through food and educating them, ensuring that we have the right systems in place to support them.

“It’s got tikanga Maori behind it and we remind them that it is kai, that we sit, and we eat.

“Kids are actually eating together and the whanaungatanga that is built through this kaupapa of having lunches in school, it’s remarkable,” Ms Peters said.

Significant feedback from whanau and students has encouraged positive changes in the scheme, which was rolled out on the first day of the school year.

“The initiative was only meant to be for primary and intermediate, but we’re doing it year seven up to year 13, so all of our kids are fed.

Ms Peters said they were still working on portion sizes.

Across the Hawke’s Bay/Tairawhiti and Bay of Plenty/Waiariki regions, 7000 students are benefiting from the programme. It will be extended to up to 21,000 students in about 120 schools by 2021.

Tarawera head boy Majean Rogers acknowledges how important a free, healthy meal is to many students.

“A lot of kids come here and don’t get fed so that plays a big role for our students and they’re able to take some home as well if they don’t have dinner.

“It helps them in their education, and it helps them get through the school day, it gives them that drive they need,” Majean said.

Head girl Destiny Maxwell agreed. She said students were grateful to be part of the programme.

“We’re really grateful for it because it’s free for our students. A lot of students go home hungry, but now that we have free lunches it’s helping them to feel full and to get the energy they need to learn,” she said.

One in 10 children suffer from poverty and thousands go without a well-balanced meal each day.

The process for lunches has been largely initiated by the students themselves, and each student gets to choose from two options.

“Our children are seeing that they can feed themselves good food, so it’s a way of educating them without explicitly implying education … because they have two options there’s still a choice and variety for them,” Ms Peters said.

Student Ocean Klock-Aramoana said it was good that every student was given lunch because it made sure no student felt ashamed about needing the meal.

Ms Peters said canteen staff at the school had played a massive role in the process.

She hopes whanau will continue to support the programme.

“Whanau support with the kaupapa is crucial to ensuring that we’re all doing this together… as long as whanau and students feel like they have a voice in what’s happening and that it matters then we can work on it,” she said.

“No matter where you are, if you’re part of our school you will be fed and that’s important.”

hazel.osborne@thebeacon.co.nz